Readers of the old portesaintmonty blog may remember that my first post-secondary credential was from SAIT, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. A diploma in Journalism. Except that they spelled it JORNALISM on the actual diploma. The misspelled diploma was the most valuable thing I ever got out of that place because at least it gave me a good story. (Or what passes for good around here: standards are low and dropping all the time.) I got this story straight from an old pal from my journalism days. After SAIT, my buddy got wise and went to a real school. He was extra secret sauce smart because when he went back, he went into the sciences. Way more jobs. Way better money. He became a professor same as me, only he is in Astronomy. Smart boy.
Or so I thought. Until I bumped into him by chance just before Covid. That’s when he told me the same story that I’m about to tell you.
It was just after he got his tenure-track position, oh, let’s call if fifteen years ago now, somewhere in the early aughts. At a Fall term faculty meeting (pretty much out of the blue is how he described it, standard astronomer’s figure of speech), half of College X’s Astronomy faculty members—half plus one--announced that they had decided that the earth is pancake flat and that they should be able to teach the theory of pancake flatness to their students in their classes however much they wanted. They insisted. They said, “We are professors in our field and are free to teach as we please.” To shore up support for the new orthodoxy they used their majority position on departmental committees to forbid the teaching of alternative theories, especially the round theory to which, they had decided, only the most grossly spherical, criminally heretical, good-for-nothing, fornicating rounders, ascribed.
For five years, my old SAIT buddy told me, the silenced rounders just went along with it. Easier than causing offense. Over time, many of them even came to view the teaching of (neo)-flat-earthism as a type of intellectual avant-gardism. Seems they believed that the “earth is a pancake” theory had been marginalized for several millennia already, and that that kind of undesired, externally enforced oblivion was itself a cruelty, an oppression of a minority view. Since giving voice to the un(der)-heard is always an act of Kantian good, most of College X’s entire Astronomy Department came to believe not only that teaching flat theory as absolute truth was a pedagogical act of great social benefit, but that doing so was merely the exercising of what was, always already, an inalienable faculty right. Flat Earthism Now! was, therefore, an act of solidarity that they felt certain would be remembered by posterity as one of the more subversive, counter-hegemonic things anyone, this century, had yet to attempt.
Everything was going swell until my buddy decided that he couldn’t do it anymore. He decided he was going to go back to teaching round earth heresy. At this point, it pains me to have to inform you that my SAIT friend is a penis-haver—low down and coal mine dirty. I don’t know if that’s relevant, but I figured it was my duty to bring it to your attention, Senator McCarthy, sir.
Anyway, like I was saying, my promiscuous, SAIT penis-haver mate got to thinking that, maybe, he should not be drawing a tasty, fluffy, buttermilk hot cake on the chalkboard every semester and saying to his students, “This is earth.”
He asked around to see what he could do.
People told him, “Hey, don’t rock the boat. It’s a flat world out there, and I’d hate to see you have to swim for it.”
Sadly, my friend is a hardhead and an idiot. He wrote a letter that went, “My dudes: the earth isn’t flat. It’s not going to be flat. Flatness is not our past. Flatness is not the future. If at some point the earth does become flat it is probably because of Elon. Up your red butthole, Elon! Go bone your mom, you rotten hunk of dick!“
Did not end there, no.
Apparently, the flat-earthers complained that the language in the letter violated their human rights. They said that the letter was a work of hate. Clearly. He used the word ‘dudes’—an act of violence, and an unconscionable reference to a dark era in ‘90s cinema best expunged from living memory. He used a vulgar and derogatory word for an appendage commonly appended to penis-havers. Actual abuse. Advising Elon to conduct carnal relations with his mother—both of them notable and honourable former residents of B.C., the same province that funded my astronomical penis-haver friend’s College X? In itself a firing offense. Academic free speech never was intended to extend so far. Not even Michel Foucault could have wanted people to speak uncivilly to power. And even if he did, Michel Foucault was a penis-haver who had sex with underage boys. People who continue to quote or teach Foucault are themselves guilty of giving comfort to paedophiles and institutional credence to paedophilia—if not worse.
You’ll never believe it, but my old friend, nutsack SAIT, swears that College X, in real life, sided with the flat earthers’ right not to be shamed for their contemporary belief in sacred mother pancake earth. My SAIT old boy was actually—I swear on my JORNALISM diploma—told at the highest institutional level that if he talks to, or about, the flat-earthers in any context ever again, his services will no longer be required.
And, he told me, the way things are these day—what with tenured positions harder to come by than witty conversation at a Cultural Studies conference—he’s gone back to teaching flat earth himself. He told me, “What’s the difference? No one studying at a place like College X is actually going to make it anywhere near outer space themselves: it’s a victimless crime.”
Rock the Boat/
Don’t rock the boat, baby!
My friend had started to sing. He was also doing John Travolta Stayin’ Alive! arm and pelvic thrusts. Unfortunate because he’d really let himself go since college and…fuck it—my friend had got old. Not old enough to remember when Flat Earth was an ethical theory to teach, but just old enough to use obsolete pop culture references, just old enough to see retirement, just old enough not to want to lose his sole income on account of something irrelevant like the (supposed) roundness of the earth.
Honestly, I don’t even blame him because
1) Disco dancing is hard, even when you practice, and I should know.
2) Truth is obviously worth less than $110,000 +4 months’ paid vacation per year. Every year until he retires. All he has to do is keep telling kids that the earth is a pancake. Besides, IHOP has pledged to endow a new College X Astronomy Fellowship—and a time when funding for the sector is more precarious than ever. Easy decision if you ask me.
My original title for this was If the natural sciences were run like the social sciences.
Deb Friesen (who is affectionately called ‘Doobz’ by many), my mother-in-law and foundational subscriber to this very Substack, turns 60 years old today! Happy Birthday, Doobz! Doobz is down in Vancouver all this week, and I am posting this early so I can bake a cake and otherwise get ready for the family birthday dance party—the first we’ve had in two years—coming up this evening. Oh, what a feeling. When you’re dancing on the ceiling. Just you and I. ‘til the morning light.